Poka Arts is a self-taught animator and illustrator responsible for the majority of the animated Afrobeats music visualizers.
If you’re a fan of Mr. Eazi or Afrobeats music, chances are you’ve watched at least one of the many 2D animated “music videos”, tagged as visualizers released between 2017 and now. These visualizers feature amusing and easy-to-follow stories and unique dance moves that end up on real-life dance floors.
At 21, 15 and 13 million views, Baby and Beginning by Joeboy, and Akwaaba by Guilty Beatz (featuring Mr. Eazi, Pappy Kojo and Patapaa) respectively are the biggest Afrobeats visualizers on YouTube. These visualizers and others like them were all created by Peter “Poka Arts” Asamoah, a self-taught animator and illustrator in Ghana. Poka has had some of his work screened at festivals such as the Accra Animation Film Festival in Ghana and Encounters Short Film and Animation Festival in the UK.
What started out as a burning desire by Kadi Yao Tay and Cassandra Mark to find out how the Akwaaba dance came about grew into a full-on conversation that’s some parts biography, many parts laughter and some other parts strong opinions on a range of arts-related things.
This Behind the Ink feature/interview is long and comes across in many ways as a feature, but also as a book broken down in parts. You can navigate to whichever part tickles your fancy with the sections below.
We’ve also summarised the meat of this conversation in our Too Long; Didn’t Read (TLDR) section for faster reading. Read the short version of this here.
The Founders of Poka Animation Studio
Poka Animation Studio was founded by Peter Asamoah, popularly known as Poka Arts and co-founded by Shadrach Sarpei Kwadey, presently the co-founder of Indigene B.R.O.S. together with Bertil Toby Svanekiaer and Nii Ofei-Kyei Dodoo (with whom Poka has collaborated).
How It All Began
Poka has always had the gift of art, drawing since he was a kid. He used to doodle on walls. According to him, he would doodle his favourite cartoons on the wall of the house right behind his. He always got in trouble for this. The constant punishment, however, did not deter him. He pursued a visual arts program at Mfantsipim High School and continued with a degree in painting at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology.
Nothing about an animation career just yet.
Interactions with Poka Arts reveal a man who easily gets bored and is in constant search for new and exciting things. This adventurous spirit is surprising and on the surface, a sharp contrast to his demeanour; calm, poised, soft-spoken and introverted.
But that’s just on the surface. In reality, he embodies the age-old advice, don’t judge a book by its cover. Tired of simply drawing, Poka Arts, with no training in film and only armed with recollections of his favourite cartoons and movies surprised his lecturers and colleagues with a piece of animation as his final year project.
Everyone anticipated a painting. Poka Arts thought he would paint too. But the thrill of challenging himself in a field he only consumed and had never tried before got the better of him.
“I thought there could be more to it. I thought I could expand. I get bored drawing just one thing. It’s not going to be like that for the rest of my life. So I just thought, let me switch a little and go into animation.”
His final year project, a political cartoon built the foundation of Ghana’s most prolific self-taught animator.
The Plan After School
There really wasn’t a plan. Just risks. He quit his first job as an illustrator at a publishing house in Accra. He started freelancing as an illustrator. Work wasn’t hard to find. It always found him thanks to his satisfied clients.
At this point, animation wasn’t exactly a career path for Poka. That is until a generalisation landed him an animation job with Jayso, the father of GH Rap and champion of animated music videos in Ghana.
There is a strong misconception (and mild confusion) about illustrators being animators in Ghana. Many people do not understand the different roles involved in animation and automatically consider illustrators, and in fact, all digital artists to be the same.
That assumption and incredible faith worked well in Poka’s favour. His friend Deon, confidently announced to Jayso that he was an animator, despite never seeing any of his animations, not even animatics.
“He (Deon) just thought Poka can do it because he can draw. So I decided, let me just give it a shot. It was a risk and something I thought, I could just try and do and see.”
Poka’s Big Break and What It Tasted Like
Deon’s assumption and faith plus Poka Arts’ desire to try new things birthed Let Them Know. This animated music video for Jayso’s song was his first animated music video.
Relying on paper, a scanner and photoshop, the video took 5 months to animate.
“I was drawing on papers and scanning them, then colouring them in photoshop. I didn’t have any tablets. I had a glass table so I would put a light beneath the table. I was doing traditional animation. Every movement was coloured in Photoshop. That was the technique.”
Poka Arts did not expect the video to be a big deal. Let Them Know was well-received among music and animation fans alike. It was fresh and different from anything that was out there at the time. Let Them Know ushered in a new era of Ghanaian music videos with Jayso as the poster boy and Poka the driving force behind it.
“It worked. I was actually surprised myself. I was proud because it was a risk that I took. It was a learning process for me. I just used that project as a medium to test what I could actually do.”
Answering the question about what his big break tasted like, Poka giggles and says, “it tasted like strawberries.”
Facing Reality Since the Inception of His Animation Career
Grey hairs, a comic book and a great career later on.
Saitama, the protagonist of the One Punch Man anime series is famously bald as a result of hair loss from excessive training.
Poka feels like he came close in his journey.
“I really wish I could learn more. I don’t really know some of the details and techniques of animation. This is basically self-taught and so I’m just using my brains a lot. That’s why I have this grey hair, I’m using my brains too much.”
Poka contemplated animation school. “I think that there should be some shortcut that I need to know.” But he wasn’t in the right frame of being to apply for an animation education at Gobelins, France’s prestigious animation school.
According to him, there was a point where his hair was falling out so much he had to shave all his hair. He was doing four things at once, animating Jayso’s music video, working on a comic book, learning and re-learning new things (in animation and comic book creation) and going through stress.
Love Brewed in An African Pot Comic by Poka Arts
Edinam Awo Amewode connected Poka with Kweku Ansah, the founder of CANOE Magazine for some illustration work. Filmmaker Kwaw Ansah (father of Kweku Ansah) was impressed with his work and contacted him to adapt his classic hit, Love Brewed in an African Pot into a comic book. That was his first and only time ever making a comic book. It was also a good payout for him that kept him afloat and brought him other jobs.
“It was awesome. I had a huge sum of money from that project. That was the first time I had ever seen that much. After that, I got a government job to illustrate some Anansi storybooks.”
Poka’s Workflow and Tools
Poka’s workflow and the tools he uses are pretty simple. He illustrates in Adobe Photoshop, animates with Toonboom,and edits with both Adobe After Effects and Adobe Premiere.
In the beginning, he solely used Photoshop and Toonboom, then relied on editors to piece together his work and add the final elements. Generally dissatisfied with the results he got from external parties, Poka learned how to edit himself. He has since evolved into a one-man army of storyboard and concept artist, character designer, writer, animator, editor and director.
Selecting What Animation Projects to Work on and Dealing With Clients
While Jayso’s Let Them Know video was Poka’s breakthrough in animation, it was working with Mr. Eazi that really propelled him to stratospheric levels.
Asked about how he chooses what music videos to animate, Poka confesses that, money, how enjoyable a song is and repeat customers are the biggest deciding factors.
“I’m very selective about the kind of projects I work on. Sometimes, upcoming artistes don’t have enough resources to pay for what they want. So I’d rather just stick with the people I already work with such as Mr. Eazi, Teni and Olamide among others. That’s not to say I don’t work with other people. So long as the money is right, I can work on anything. Although to be honest, I need to really be into the song, I need to vibe with it so it’s easier and faster for me to animate.”
Money isn’t always a factor for Poka however. Booze High by Worlasi and Juls is a case in point. Poka fell in love with the song and ideas for an animated music video danced in his head as he listened to the song repeatedly.
Unable to contain his ideas any longer and egged on by his close friend Kiaski Donkor, Poka struck a sweet video deal with Worlasi and Mannie, his manager at the time.
It’s not uncommon to hear artists complain about clients being monsters who don’t know what they want, keep coming back with changes, having no appreciation for the work involved or just plain being horrible people.
According to Poka, he hasn’t faced any of this in his career so far. Instead, Poka has had to turn down many projects because of the sheer volume of requests that come his way.
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KaDi Yao Tay
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